Title: The Gloaming
Writer: Kirsty Logan
Publishing House: Penguin Random House UK
Date of Publication: April 19th 2018
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Ahead of her was only this: dozens of bodies turned to stone, and then the edge of the cliff. The glimmer of rocks. The lure and chew of the waves.’’
When I read Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, I thought I would never find another novel to make me feel as if I had entered a world of magic where feelings and thoughts are born through powers beyond our material universe, through legends of times unseen. And my thought was correct until The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan came my way. It brought me to a point where I wanted to finish it in a single night. And then I wanted to spend ten minutes in every chapter to feel every word in my blood.
(image source: https://independenthostels.co.uk/west-coast-of-scotland-bunkhouses-bothies-hostels)
‘’Let the sea take it.’’
Signe, Peter, Islay, Mara, and Bee have created a home in an unnamed, isolated island (inspired by the Hebrides, in my opinion) where, eventually, people turn to stone, gazing at the horizon and the stormy sea. The sea takes away the sins of the adults, the children’s shenanigans. Sadly, it cannot take away the pain or the thoughts that torment us. It cannot mend a loss. Mara knows this all too well. When a mysterious woman arrives in the island, Mara discovers feelings and wishes and begins to question everything related to her life and to the future. But who is Pearl? What is she? What does she want?
(image source: https://www.heatherlea.co.uk/birdwatching-holidays-st-kilda-and-the-hebrides)
‘’Through the doorway, past the empty paint tins and splintering ladders piled up against the front wall of the house. Skirting the moss of lavender, scent clouding, stems twitching under questing bees.’’
Each chapter is named under a Scottish word, a ballet or a boxing term (don’t worry, there is a very comprehensive glossary) and the narration goes back and forth in time as we watch the events unfold under the perspectives of the characters, focusing on Mara’s point of view. There are sketches of mermaids, the mythical creatures made of beauty and danger, being the heart of the story. There is a very strong, rich influence of myths and folklore and the figure of the selkie is constantly referred to. A symbol of the longing for home, for our origins, for the sea that always takes what it wants and for deceit, the man’s desire that knows no ethical limits when triggered. The sea is everywhere in The Gloaming. Islay, Mara, Pearl, and Barra are names associated with the water realm and there is a very interesting sentence in the first chapters of the book: ‘’Every childhood is an island’’. This is the loneliness, the isolation we felt when we were children, the idea that no one understands us, no one speaks our language. The wilderness, the primeval instinct, the unpredictability of a child’s behaviour.
(image source: https://gr.pinterest.com/pin/495607133984530320)
‘’Smoke from chimneys framed ghosts that came tapping at the windows at night.’’
I cannot possibly convey the beauty, the mesmerizing quality of Kirsty Logan’s writing in a single text. There is a very strong Gothic atmosphere throughout with the use of the house of the Ross family, the darkness, the wind, the moody colours of the landscape, the girls whose life is at a crossroads, lost between two worlds. However, everything is so uniquely weaved into the story, so seamlessly that old tropes seem suddenly new. There are so many scenes that have stayed with me since I’ve finished the novel…The beautiful story of how Signe and Peter fell in love, the moonlit sea, the derelict house. The first time we read about the statues is an utterly mystifying, haunting moment, gloriously tragic and beautiful. Logan pays homage to the hypnotizing art of Ballet which is constructed around myths and folklore. There is an emphasis on Odette and Odile from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, an allegory of how good and evil coexist within us all and, often, they merge to unpredictable results. The tragic story of Giselle is also significant but you will need to read the book to understand why.
(Piotr Illych Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake)
(Adolphe Adam’s Giselle)
‘’She was a good mother, she was sure. But how good could any mother be?’’
‘’Hit hard and you’re a champion; show mercy and you’re nothing but a fool.’’
For me, Signe and Peter were the gems of the novel in terms of characterization. Especially Signe who demonstrates every virtue and agony associated with motherhood, every doubt, and fear of being a mother. Signe comes from Sweden, another land of myths and legends, her life as a ballerina a symbol of sacrifices that must be made in order to achieve a kind of success that is uncertain and short-lived. Peter is a perfect companion to Signe, a very realistic, kind, earthy character, a fighter for his family. The young women of the story will probably give you all kinds of feelings. From love to anger to hope and frustration. Mara is a rather sensitive, intuitive character with a rather complex, unclear perception of the world. Her bond with Pearl is very intriguing. Pearl is a dark character, her motives unclear, her behaviour fairly questionable. It is interesting that we don’t get to see much of her point of view and this makes her even more mysterious. She is a shady character, fascinating and alluring. I didn’t care for Islay at all, I didn’t like her attitude or her brashy behaviour.
(image source: https://gr.pinterest.com/pin/32228953556556969)
This is a novel where magical realism, folklore and the power of the landscape come together in a perfect marriage. Difficult themes acquire beauty through Logan’s exquisite interpretation. Relationships, loss, the grief over a life that is no longer there, the difficulty of coping with the inevitable, the irreversible. She writes as if she’s narrating a story around a bonfire on a Scottish shore, in a long summer evening. It is direct, warm, kind, full of love. It is raw and powerful and so full of beauty that becomes almost unbearable. I wanted to experience each and every word, to live in the paragraphs, to ‘’see’’ the island, the moon and the rocks lit by its light. You have to read the book to understand. A perfect story wrapped in one of the most beautiful front covers I’ve ever seen, designed by Dinara Mirtalipova.
‘’To stay in the gloaming is to hold off the night. But if the night never comes, then neither can the day.’’
Many thanks to Penguin Random House UK and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.